Bjørn Riis: Lullabies in a Car Crash
  • Composition
  • Musicianship
  • Production
  • Originality
  • A classic sound done near perfect

After a number of listens with Lullabies in a Car Crash, the debut solo album from Norwegian guitarist Bjørn Riis, I’ve come to a conclusion that I need to be reminded of from time to time: just because something isn’t highly original doesn’t mean it can’t be good. And let me tell you, this lead guitarist and primary composer for the band Airbag sure delivers some fantastic music on Lullabies, an album consisting of six songs drenched in pure melancholy.

To kick it off the record gives us “A New Day,” creating a soundscape that washes over you with increased intensity over tense clean guitar motifs, producing an ominous ambiance that reminds me of a cross between Pink Floyd and early Riverside. Since “A New Day” is really a sort of album intro, “Stay Calm” is where we we first truly get a picture of what the album is all about. A acoustic guitar strumming a simple two-chord progression opens it up and is soon surrounded by light guitar effects before the entrance of vocals which very nearly mirror Steven Wilson in both sound and phrasing style. The depressive lyrics of failed family relationships set the lyrical tone for the album, opening us up to a world of alienation and loss. As massive bass and Mellotron enter the picture the song begins building and building, the drums pick it up and we eventually arrive at some thickly distorted riffing before backing off to a simple tron melody and bassline; the result is tasty indeed. Enter guitar David Gilmour on guitar…errr…I mean Bjørn Riis, although when you listen you’ll notice that there’s good a good reason why his guitar page is called I can’t really complain though, he totally nails the style of the master in the beset of ways, making for a delectable dish of subtle phrasing an an expert knack for picking the most effective lines.

The next two tracks, “Disappear” and “Out of Reach” are very much along the lines of “Stay Calm,” both in terms of music and themes. “Disappear” similarly starts of with light acoustic strumming, but this time it’s the presence of an ominous piano with loads of delay that really sets up a strong moody atmosphere, again leaning towards a Floyd/Porcupine Tree-ish vibe. Light electric guitar and Mellotron lines build up the pieces throughout the first half, leading right up into a glorious middle section that is essentially a powerful explosion of slowly moving themes that subsequently takes us to yet another soulful solo over emotive chord changes. If there’s anything I can say about this piece it’s that it is catchy, simple, and extremely effective, doing all the right things at the right time. The intro to the follow up, “Out of Reach,” is quite expected at this point, but takes it one step forward in terms of drama in the way that it presents an intimate combination of guitar and vocals, not in the cheesy singer/songwriter sort of way, but  more along the lines of a seriously anguished and introspective portrayal, featuring lyrics that give a strong sense of soul crushing abandonment. The build on this one is particularly satisfying, starting off with sparse playing on the guitar but keeping just enough variance in there to keep the interest going. The entrance of the bass alongside some light tapping on the cymbals adds quite a powerful effect, but the real key here is the airy choir pad that gently creeps in alongside subtle electric guitar lines which is really the launch point for an effective demonstration of how you build up the mood in a piece.

Wrapping up the album are “The Chase,” an instrumental oddball (but a good one at that) that starts of sort of Satriani-ish (in a way I can’t quite put my finger on) before moving towards some heaviness reminiscent of late Porcupine Tree, and finally the 13 minute title track, “Lullaby in a Car Crash.” Well, it’s inevitable, the title track on the album had to be epic, and there you go; it is. Talk about atmosphere, the carefully plotted keyboard into sets a strong tone for the piece, leading us into some Floyd-ish chord progression and a vocal section where notes on the keys are interspursed between vocal-lines under atmospheric layers of guitars and keys. When the chorus hits, the drum punches, and the Mellotron erupts it is absolutely gorgeous, not to mention that some delicious guitar soloing carrying into a heavy riff hits the sweet spot while the Airbag guitarist takes you on a moody rollercoaster that will leave you very satisfied.

Bjørn Riis really has his format, technique, and delivery down pat. It’s highly evident that he knows how to borrow stylistically from the masters, but at the same time he is extremely savvy in the way he employs familiar phrasing style, chord progressions, and dynamic building. If Lullabies in a Car Crash is anything, it’s an immensely enjoyable album with lots of emotion. If you’re into Gilmour and Wilson, look no further, Bjørn is your man.